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Intel: Sensors are of mote

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IDF Intel is winding down its sensor research, but that's a sign of its success, executives said today. "When research projects are successful, they should stop," the director of Intel Research Berkeley Eric Brewer said during a session at the Intel Developer Forum here.

The East Bay lab has been examining issues with low power embedded devices designed for instrumentation such as industrial and environmental monitoring for several years.

Researcher Ralph Kling, who gave the world's press an overview of the sensor work, said that Intel wasn't quite ready for rollout, describing it as closer to "pre-production".

The test bed for the research has been the "Mote" - a tiny wireless embedded gizmo with CPU, flash memory, I/O and Bluetooth capabilities. Most of the time the mote is inactive, in a low power state. Experimenting with topologies the Berkeley team had explored self-maintaining networks, sensing capabilities, and the bandwidth and power constraints on networks with thousands of embedded nodes.

An example of a live Mote deployment was Great Duck Island - not a reference to Intel's ill-fated system on a chip Timna, but a real bird sanctuary.

The second generation Mote made use of an XScale processor and an on board DSP. With more local processing power, said Kling, the sensors didn't need to send data over the network, resulting in an overall power saving. As part of the project, Intel developed a gateway for aggregating data from the sensors, "Stargate".

Sensors had played a part in a joint UN-World Bank project to combat West Nile River Blindness, said Brewer. The hydrological sensors had fed data via satellite into forecasting software to determine the best time to spray larvicide. That left you wondering how much of a greater part larvicide had played. Real-time health monitoring is also a potent field for deployment, as is the burgeoning security-related field of cargo.

Intel isn't alone in researching the commercial possibilities of sensors, of course. At Sun Labs earlier this year the executive management unveiled a new emphasis on sensors and robotics, although Intel's work looks entirely more methodical, and isn't encumbered by either New Age psycho-babble, or the need to base the platform on Java.

Somewhat flippantly, we asked Kling if any of the sensors had displayed any signs of sentience. Had any intelligence "emerged"? Ah yes, he replied, and launched into a scenario where a lot of useful data could be gleaned from the sensors communicating with each other, such as cargo containers. Must be that German sense of humor. ®

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